Google “corporate improv training” or “improv for business” and you’ll receive links to articles on why improv classes are great for workplace culture, primarily beginning with the principle of “Yes, and,” then trickling down into other principles like listening, team building and creativity.
But I’d like to tackle four OTHER reasons to incorporate improv into your workplace. These principles guide me both on and off stage and I credit them with helping me build my own business.
Improv turns differences (or perceived weaknesses) into assets
Great improvisers believe that everyone has something to bring to the table, whether they’re new to the art form or an established veteran.
We learn quickly in improv that our differences (or the things we’re not good at…yet) are what make us great together in the moment. Sometimes the very thing we think is weird, or we perceive as a weakness, is the very thing that makes the whole machine beautiful and effective.
At the very least, embracing our differences and the differences in others provides greater opportunity to either support or be supported. It gives us a chance to make each other look good, and work toward a mutual goal of creating win-wins and overall group success.
Improv shifts your perspective on failure
At the start of every single one of my workshops—whether it’s for kids or adults—I say the following phrase:
“Failure is just more information.”
The beauty of improv is that it teaches you to fail, fail quickly and, yes, even be celebrated for that failure.
First, we’re all human, and we’ll mess up a million times in our lifetime. Celebrating our failures is simply celebrating being human.
Second, it helps to neutralize the fear of failure.
In fact, messing up means we’ve learned something new. Either we know better for next time how to work with a certain scene partner or which choices make us feel smarter.
Fail. Celebrate. Know what we didn’t know before.
Third, we celebrate failure because it creates space for the next right choice.
Everyone’s heard the stories of the inventor who goes through thousands of (failed) prototypes to get to the invention that works. Each failure led to the next best thing.
When we approach our corporate culture this way, it frees people up to think more creatively and to know that even if it’s not the right move, right now, it’ll create an opportunity for the right move later.
Improv teaches you to revel in the unknown
My favorite thing in the whole world is performing in TBD: the Improvised Musical. We get a title from the audience and then we go for 90 minutes with no script and no score. We have nothing but each other and the love of our craft.
And yet, at the end of every show, we’ve created a whole story and 10-12 new songs from scratch and proven to ourselves once again that sometimes not knowing the destination means the joy of getting there is that much sweeter.
An improvised musical isn’t business, though. In business, plans are important. Strategy is paramount to success.
And yet, there are an infinite number of variables that are impossible to know ahead of time.
Improv teaches us to revel and embrace those moments of unknown. Because anything can happen in those moments: the greatest success, a new idea, a path we didn’t know was open to us before.
Make a plan. Stick to it. But embrace those unknowns, too, for it’s in those delicious moments of freefall that we truly learn to fly.
Improv considers every idea important
Note that I didn’t say “improv considers every idea good.” I’ve been on stage when I’ve been presented with spectacularly bad ideas (or when I’ve presented them to others).
But the idea itself—even if it’s a bad one, or considered a failure–is important.
When I teach brainstorming to companies and individuals, one of the first things we tackle is making sure our inner editors die a spectacular death.
Our inner editors tell us that we should only come up with good ideas, because if we come up with good ideas, then we can move on.
When it comes to finding the best ideas, it’s important to first come up with an abundance of ideas—probably hundreds more than we think we need–and, initially, give them equal weight.
Improv teaches us to treat every idea like it has the potential to be great…with a little tweaking.
When we create a culture in our businesses where every idea is important (if only to get them out so your brain has space to create new ones), it means we can come up with—very quickly!—some awful ideas, hundreds of pretty okay ideas, and a few potentially good ideas, all of which can then be refined into one or two great ideas.
Most corporate cultures only make room for great ideas…except it’s impossible to come up with a fully realized, ready-to-go, off-the-shelf great idea at first pass. (It’s also creatively paralyzing.)
Good ideas are born. Great ideas are made. Improv helps us get there.
Ready to get your improv on? Learn more and grow together with an improv workshop at sparkspace!
Meet our Guest Blogger: Sarah J. Storer
Sarah J. Storer is an improv performer and educator with over 15 years of experience in the art form. She earned her Master’s degree in Marketing and Communication in 2008 and soon became obsessed with combining the art of improv with the principles of business. Since then, she’s had the opportunity to design and facilitate improv classes and workshop experiences in Columbus, OH for companies like Cardinal Health, Honda, Edward Jones, Owens Corning, Nationwide, Spectrum and Geben Communication to help them build better teams, participate in authentic communication and grow thriving, productive businesses. To learn more visit www.selfimprovment.org or www.hashtagcomedy.com.